A billion motherfucking dollars. One billion. Dollars. Of money. Actual American currency.
That's what Amazon is probably spending on their upcoming Lord of the Rings series, which will also run at least five seasons. I'm honestly having trouble trying to figure out which number is more ridiculous (haha, just kidding, it's the one with nine goddamn zeros).
This all comes from a new article dropped by the Hollywood Reporter, which estimates that - after you take into consideration the cost of casting, producers, visual effects, and everything else associated with bringing the fantasy epic to the small screen - Amazon could be on the hook for $1 billion or more. Now, even if you subtract the $250 mil from the total that Amazon bought the initial rights for, a production budget of $750 million still seems incredibly high (rounding out at $150 mil per season).
Also, New Line Studios and its parent company Warner Bros. don't own the rights to any TV adaptations of J.R.R.Tolkien's fantasy series (as they're only the feature film holders). However, it's reported that Amazon may use “material” from Peter Jackson's mega-successful films in their new series. That means Amazon also had to pay off New Line as part of their deal to embark on this new endeavor. It isn't specified what sort of "material" will be revisited - or if that opens the door to actors like Elijah Wood returning to roles they transformed into big screen icons - but it speaks to Amazon at least partially relying on our fond memories of these films as they construct their new beast.
Another one of the largest elements feeding into this enormous price tag is the length of commitment Amazon had to agree to. Essentially, once the streaming giant bought the rights to Rings from the Tolkien estate, HarperCollins (the books' primary publisher) and New Line Cinema, they did so committing to no less than five seasons of a series (holy shit). That means this new Lord of the Rings is five seasons minimum, and could even go on longer, should it become the hit the streaming studio is counting on.
Which brings us to the why of this whole deal. Obviously, Game of Thrones made fantasy filmmaking a hot commodity again, and this is going to be Amazon's attempt at capturing that same lightning in a bottle with a known property. However, we now are faced with a set of clashing ethos behind each production, perhaps without consideration for why they were popular within their respective release periods. Lord of the Rings came to a post-9/11 world, which needed a glimpse of light at that particular moment, inadvertently boiling a lot the strife individuals were feeling in the wake of those terrorist attacks into an elemental battle between good vs. evil. That translated into box office dollars and (eventually) Academy Awards.
On the flipside, Game of Thrones is a much more cynical approach to fantastical storytelling: chock full of sex, political intrigue, graphic violence, and more sex. Applying this sort of approach to Lord of the Rings just seems, well, off. Now, there's nothing here stating that Amazon's going to make a series where Frodo and Gandalf hang dong, engage in orgies, and fuck over their enemies (though we can probably count on dragons being a thing again), but the guiding motivation might be a misunderstanding of both properties at a base level.
Finally, fans of Jackson's films are definitely wondering if the filmmaker is in the picture. The answer is maybe? According to THR, Jackson's representation has helped the writer/director create “a dialogue” with Amazon. So, who knows what the future holds for the filmmaker and the franchise?
Either way, it's tough to get over that price tag and that length. $1 billion could go a long way in any other area of production (imagine how many original films you could make for that much money), and if these seasons last 10 episodes each, that's possibly fifty hours of Lord of the Rings ahead of us. I dunno, my preciousess, that might be too much.